The University of Wisconsin Press
Law / Popular Culture / Cultural Studies / Folklore
Lowering the Bar
Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture
"Hilarious and philosophical at the same time, a nifty probe of the genre, regularly guilty of wise humor."Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer
What do you call 600 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? Marc Galanter calls it an opportunity to investigate the meanings of a rich and time-honored genre of American humor. Lowering the Bar analyzes hundreds of jokes from Mark Twain classics to contemporary anecdotes about Dan Quayle, Johnnie Cochran, and Kenneth Starr. Drawing on representations of law and lawyers in the mass media, political discourse, and public opinion surveys, Galanter finds that the increasing reliance on law coexists uneasily with anxiety about the "legalization" of society. Always entertaining, his book explores the tensions between Americans' deep-seated belief in the law and their ambivalence about lawyers.
"I never realized how funny and serious lawyer jokes could be. Galanter does to lawyer jokes what Freud did to Jewish jokes in his classic Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, but sometimes a good joke is just a good joke."
Alan Dershowitz, author of Rights from Wrongs
Excerpts"Two lawyers are sitting at a bar drinking when a stunning blonde in a skin-tight, low-cut dress slinks by. One of them stares for a minute, then turns to his buddy and says, 'Boy, would I like to screw her!' The other lawyer asks, 'Out of what?'"
"An ancient, nearly blind old woman retained the local lawyer to draft her last will and testament, for which he charged her two hundred dollars. As she rose to leave, she took the money out of her purse and handed it to him, enclosing a third hundred dollar bill by mistake. Immediately the attorney realised he was faced with a crushing ethical question: Should he tell his partner?"
"Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? A: How many can you afford?"
—excerpts from Lowering the Bar
Marc Galanter is the John and Rylla Bosshard Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of WisconsinMadison and Centennial Professor in the Department of Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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Of related interest:
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Edited by Alison Dundes Renteln and Alan Dundes
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"This book should be on every folklorist's and lawyer's shelf, although the latter may want to put it in a plain brown wrapper."
Jan Harold Brunvand, author of Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends
"Anyone who finds lawyer jokes humorous (including most lawyers) or has always wondered about how and why they became so popular will very much enjoy this 'lowering of the bar.'"
Alan J. Couture, ForeWord Magazine
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